Vanity Fair profiles The eXile: "Gutsy...visceral...serious journalism...abusive, defamatory...poignant...paranoid...and right!"
MSNBC: Mark Ames and Yasha Levine
Broke the Koch Brothers' Takeover of America
exiledonline.com

Republished from the Radio War Nerd subscriber newsletter. Subscribe to Radio War Nerd for podcasts, newsletters and more!

The headline here is not a joke, unfortunately. It’s a question you can’t help asking if you’ve followed the war in Yemen.

You probably noticed that on Radio War Nerd we’ve pointed out over and over that some wartime deaths get a whole lot of attention, others very little — or none. But it’s not easy to get a real-life scientific-type test of the relative weight of a WaPo writer’s death and the deaths of “enemy” civilians.

Well, we’ve got such a test now. I just found it at the BBC News site. This thing is going to be the gold standard of pixels-per-death calculations from now on. It’s Nobel Prize in Media Physics stuff. What’s the molecular weight of a dead Yemeni civilian? It’s an amount so tiny that mere laypeople using crude stone tools could never guess it. But thanks to this BBC story, we can use our advanced math skills to figure it out.

Here’s the story, our Eureka moment, our Rosetta Stone, our electron media microscope: a BBC article headlined “Saudi Arabia: Just how deep are its troubles?”, published on May 13 2020, under the byline of Frank Gardner, “BBC Security Correspondent.”

Gardner identifies many problems for the Kingdom, most of them purely financial: the COVID-19 pandemic, the oil glut and falling prices. He briefly mentions the PR problem suffered by de facto Saudi ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS):

“Meanwhile the crown prince, while still largely popular at home, remains something of a pariah in the West due to lingering suspicions over his alleged role in the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.”

That’s Gardner’s sixth paragraph, so the PR problem rates below the purely financial problems, but still pretty high.

Paragraph placement in a news story is very important. And like the NFL draft, it’s not so much whether you get drafted or not but where you’re placed. The earlier the better, the more value you have, whether you’re a cornerback or a dead civilian. So being mentioned in the sixth paragraph of a long (50-paragraph) story like this, as Khashoggi is, makes you something like a third-round choice. Khashoggi must be proud, wherever he is now.

The point is that killing Khashoggi is MbS’s ONLY PR problem, as far as the BBC is concerned.

There’s no doubt the killing of Khashoggi, an elite Saudi who’d gone rogue, was not a triumph of professional assassinations. Forget Jean Reno, this was more like hiring the boys from Texas Chainsaw Massacre to do the cleanup operation. MbS’s agents brought their hacksaws to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, killed Khashoggi on the premises, were too stupid to realize Turkish intel had the place bugged up worse than an Ontario cabin in July, and had no cover story ready when the tapes showed up online.

And the Saudis’ attempt at damage management was the most inept of all. The Saudis’ first response was that Khashoggi had left the consulate intact, his limbs a virgin forest untouched by the saw, and only admitted under pressure that he’d been killed and dismembered inside their consulate. No one’s disputing that the killing of Jamal Khashoggi was a bloody mess in every sense.

But the thing is, that wasn’t the bloodiest mess MbS and the Kingdom were involved in. And Khashoggi wasn’t the only maimed body left in the wake of MbS’s “reform” policies.

Not by a loooooong shot. There was this other thing going on: The Saudi-led invasion and blockade of NW Yemen, the mostly Shia highland provinces of Yemen. That bloody massacre started in March 2015, and it’s been killing untold (and I do mean “untold”) hundreds of thousands since then.

How many people have died horrible deaths in Yemen since 2015? The official sources like WaPo and NYT and BBC used to fix on a static figure: 10,000 dead.

Everyone laughed at that one. Every knew it had to be much, much higher, but that just annoyed our news sources of record. So they tried fudging the numbers with the face-saving formula “at least” 10,000, but even buzzards sometimes gag, and people got sick of hearing such an obvious callous lie.

So by now, how many Yemeni Shia nobodies are dead? How many inconvenient corpses, disproportionately children (because they’re always the first to die in a famine) are buried, untold, in that rocky ground?

Nobody even tries very hard to guess anymore, because nobody in the Western media is interested. Especially not the crusaders at the Washington Post. As far as they and their buddies in the NYT and BBC are concerned, those deaths don’t matter. No, that’s wrong: those deaths are actually an annoyance, a distraction. It’s not that the news sites of record can’t be bothered to cover the hundreds of thousands who’ve died in Yemen after years of blockade, air strikes, and artificial famine. It’s not that at all. They care, all right; they’re annoyed.

Because those who died were nobodies, and the wrong-est kind of nobodies. They were Shia, and Shia are all our enemies, as far as Riyadh, D.C., London and Jerusalem are concerned. When a Shia Yemeni child dies gasping of an easily curable disease like cholera, it’s not just unimportant, it’s enemy propaganda — because the Houthi, or Ansarullah if you prefer — the main Shia militia in Yemen — are officially “Iranian proxies.”

They’re not, of course. The Shia of NW Yemen have been fighting against the Najd, home of the Sauds in Central Arabia, for centuries.

Najran was a Yemeni city before the 1930s, when the nouveaux riches Saudis “rented” it from the dirt-poor Yemenis and simply refused to return it when the lease was up. The Saudi response was simply “Oh, you want us to return Najran? Meet our new friends, the US and UK militaries. We’re paying them for protection now, so if you take one step across the new border, they’ll blow you to bits.”

Since then the alliance between Riyadh, Washington, and London has only deepened. Arab leftists have been wiped out in Yemen, Oman, and Saudi itself. It’s corrupt Islamists/Royalists all the way down these days.

And this is just fine with the staff at WaPo/NYT/BBC. They have never had ANY problem with all that. They had no problem at all backing the Saudi “coalition’s” blockade of medicines and food directed against NW Yemen; no problem with the videos of kids dying of medieval diseases; no problem with Saudi bombing of Hodeidah, the one port serving NW Yemen, and no problem with the US Navy doing patrols to enforce the Saudi blockade on food and medicine reaching the Shia provinces.

Remember, when Jamal Khashoggi was killed in 2018, this artificial blockade and famine had been going on for almost three years. No one knows exactly how many Shia Yemeni died in those years, because no one who matters wants to know. I’m using “not want to know” as a transitive verb here; it’s not that they “failed” to find out but that their policy was outright boycott on Yemen horror stories, even as they were hyping mostly BS horror stories from Syria, which happened to align with the interests of the DC/Riyadh/London cartel (and, annoyingly but not very importantly, a lot of woke-left idiots who never noticed that they were doing fine PR work for the cartel).

So we’re ready to set our experiment in motion. Jamal Khashoggi is mentioned in Paragraph Six of this story. How about the hundreds of thousands of dead nobodies in Yemen?

They are mentioned a total of three times in this 50-paragraph story. Always very briefly, “in passing” as suave reporters like to say, and using terms like “a spat” to describe the kerfuffle, as if it was a snarly moment on a cooking show.

Here’s the first of the three mentions. This one — the first one, remember! — is in the eighth paragraph, two paragraphs after Jamal Khashoggi’s death — in NFL draft terms, a fourth- or fifth-round choice. Note also the phrasing here:

“Then the war in neighbouring Yemen has bled Saudi coffers for more than five years now with no tangible gains, and a spat with Qatar has wrecked the surface unity of the six-nation Gulf Arab Cooperation Council (GCC).”

There is nothing on how many have died, or how many of the dead were civilians, or how many (MANY) of the famine dead were children. Nothing at all about that. Ah, but there is something about blood! “…[T]he war in neighboring Yemen has bled Saudi coffers for five years now…” Huh, there’s a medical novelty. Some hippie said “Only women bleed,” but it turns out here that only “coffers” bleed. “Only money bleeds,” as it were. Yemenis, no; “coffers,” yes.

And you know the worst about that fiscal bloodletting? It was all for “no tangible gains.” A bad investment, a far worse sin, apparently, than several hundred thousand dead.

Now here’s the second mention of Yemen. This one comes far down, about the 32nd paragraph (out of 50 paragraphs, remember) — which makes it like an eighth-round draft choice in NFL terms.

This one is very brief, very dodgy in every sense:

“The Yemen War, prosecuted in part from the air by Saudi warplanes supplied by the US and Britain, has seen alleged war crimes committed by all sides.”

This one kind of makes me sick (and I once did a survey of British journalism during the Great Famine of the late 1840s, so I have a tough gut.) You’ll note that it was “prosecuted” by the Saudis, a nice way of saying “They invaded Yemen.” Furthermore, they were only responsible “in part” for this prosecution (though their “Coalition of the Willing” was even more reluctant and useless than ours in Iraq). And just to put an extra coat of whitewash on this squeamish, quick allusion to a genocide, Gardner tops off the paragraph with “war crimes committed by all sides.” Yeah Frank, one’s as bad as the other, right? Even if one side, the ones with the money, have all the weapons, all the offensive firepower, and all the lapdog media on their side. It’s an old trick, this “one’s as bad as the other,” but it works all too often.

Ah, but Gardner does go on to admit there have been problems due to the genocide in Yemen. What kind of problems? PR problems, of course! He says in the next paragraph that KSA”s “prosecution” of a war has led, for reasons which seem to be wholly incomprehensible to our friends at the BBC, to some bad press.

“But the civilian death toll caused by those air strikes has led to mounting criticism in Washington and elsewhere.”

It’s that first word, “But…” that gets me. “But”? Why “but”? Read it aloud with the “but” and then without. You’ll see that with the “but” in the beginning the sentence implies that the air strikes, the artificial famine, all of it, is not a problem in itself; the problem is “But…” these perfectly valid policies have, alas, led to “mounting criticism in Washington and elsewhere.”

We’d better move on, to the third and final mention of Yemen, before I spew on the monitor. So here it is, in a mere photo caption just below the 39th paragraph of the story (in NFL terms, a UDFA):

“Five years of war in Yemen have cost Saudi Arabia dearly” [photo caption]

Or rather, here it was — because, in the time since I first read the article, the BBC has changed the caption so that it now reads “Five years of war in Yemen have achieved little.”

Ah, those sly dogs at the BBC copy desk! They think they’ve thwarted our rhetorical analysis but they are mistaken. Because now we can compare the original caption and the revision as if they were lines from a poem.

Here they are, Exhibits A (the original) and B (the new version):

A: “Five years of war have cost Saudi Arabia dearly”

B: “Five years of war in Yemen have achieved little”

This is a very revealing change. Exhibit A made the emphasis on money a little too clear when it said that the war has “cost Saudi Arabia dearly.” That’s the author’s real priority, of course, but somebody — a reader or an editor, a paid empath or something — flinched at it, decided to blur the raw indifference to those who’ve suffered by talking about what’s been “achieved” rather than what the war cost Riyadh. So now we get the nice, bland predicate “…have achieved little.”

So now, the article isn’t saying outright that the war was too expensive for KSA, but that it was wasted carnage, carnage that doesn’t “achieve” anything. It’s dizzying to try to find a meaning in that; what would a successful “achievement” be? The annihilation of NW Yemen? The crushing of all Shia resistance in Yemen? Saudi hegemony over the whole country?

But I’m quibbling. Readers won’t ask questions like that. They’ll glean something vague and well-meaning on the lines of “War, what is it good for?” and let the BBC off the hook. See? The Beeb isn’t totally obsessed with Saudi finances!

But the new caption is balanced, in that winsome NYT/WaPo/BBC manner, because it doesn’t go too far by mentioning dead Yemenis. It’s still looking solely at the Saudi perspective.

From the Yemeni perspective, this war has “achieved” quite a bit, in a grim sense: killing hundreds of thousands, crippling the next generation (because no child ever really recovers from protracted starvation in childhood, as studies have shown).

In fact, you could argue, if you were Satan, that this was an “achievement” for the KSA: by stunting the mental and physical development on a generation of Yemeni Shia, KSA has hit, in military jargon, the “second echelon,” the upcoming generation of potential enemies.

Now, thinking rhetorically, guess what the next photograph gracing the story might be. Remember, this is a news-site of record from the Anglo/Saudi consensus. So what would remind readers that after all, MbS is a reformer, a maker of omelettes, despite all the broken and bloody eggs he splattered over the landscape. What would show his progressive side?

Yup, a shot of a rich elite Saudi woman driving a car. And that is indeed the next photograph.

So see, folks, there’s good coming out of MbS’s tough love after all.

And really, the story tells us, his only real mistake was killing Khashoggi, a real human being, a Made Man in the global mafia. That death mattered. The dead Yemenis? They were Shia; they were “pro-Iranian”; they were, above all, dirt poor.

But us, we’re scientists here. We have to figure out the ratio: how many dead Shia poor people does it take to equal one Khashoggi?

Which means we have to come up with some estimate of how many untold deaths have happened in Yemen. Keep in mind, very few of the dead were killed in the air strikes that get the publicity, brutal as those no doubt were.

The real killer in Yemen has been famine and a blockade on essential medicines. That technique kills or cripples a whole population, starting with young children (as the BBC should know better than anyone).

But “untold” means “untold, right? How can we even guess? It’s not easy, because people-of-record don’t want you to think about it. But we have had a few brave people willing to name some sums. The representative for one NGO trying to work in Yemen estimated that,

“…an estimated 1,000 children are dying every week from preventable killers like diarrhoea, malnutrition and respiratory tract infections.”

That was back in 2016. So if you do the math: 52 weeks a year for five years, that’s roughly a quarter of a million dead children.

Most Western news sources of the respectable sort won’t do the math. They’ll stick to that comically absurd “10 thousand dead” figure. I swear I’ll never understand those people. They’re so very moral — except when it doesn’t suit them. They take me back to the respectable press in 1847 Britain, and that’s the last place I want to be.

They even retain the habit of not counting those who die in an artificial famine, as if blockading a country that was always heavily dependent on food imports and medical supply flights was an Act of God. They sometimes count Yemeni civilians dead in direct “Coalition” air strikes on markets and funerals, but even then there are dark hints that those might have been “pro-Iranian” weddings, “pro-Iranian” funerals, “pro-Iranian” food markets. You know, the suspect kind where they sell pro-Iranian onions.

The Iranian link to the Shia of Yemen is, let me repeat, BS. There’s a very, very powerful link between Iran and Hezbollah, as both sides will tell you with pride; there’s a somewhat more fraught link between Iran and Syria; but Yemen has always fought the push from Saudi Arabia, and would do so if Iran ceased to exist tomorrow. The people telling that lie must know better, but…well, who knows how a weasel thinks? Proud to say I don’t.

And Lord knows that’s a depressing topic.

But let’s go back to the original question up top and do the math as best we can. Drum roll, while we reveal the answer to the big q:

“How many dirt-poor, wrong-sect, non-English-speaking nobodies does it take to equal one made man in the Cartel’s media elite like Jamal Khasoggi?”

Answer (after the necessary wonk-ish qualifiers, e.g. “We can’t set an exact figure here…”) The answer is roughly…

A quarter of a million. And that’s a conservative estimate, not (by any means) a neoliberal one.

Yup, that’s the ratio: One dead WaPo contributor weighs as much, news-wise, as a quarter-million nobodies from the wrong side of the sectarian tracks.

That’s how these virtuous people think. Makes me gladder than ever I’m not virtuous.

Gary Brecher is the nom de guerre-nerd of John Dolan. Buy his book The War Nerd Iliad.

Subscribe to the Radio War Nerd podcast!

Posted: May 24th, 2020

Limonov & Marignac, early 1980s Paris

Again, damnit! I’ve been doing this forever. Most of my friends kicked the bucket before I reached the ripe old age of 30. Addicts don’t live that long, heroin isn’t a nurturing mother, no matter what you think when you use it. Since then, I had very few genuine friends. Well, Edward Limonov, whom I’ve consorted with for forty odd years, was one of them. He just died before the onset of apocalypse, as we know it with this cybernetic virus of a very dubious origin. Sly old bastard, he even figured when to leave the world scene.

I knew he was gonna die, all flags were red the last times I saw him, in Paris in May 2019, to march with the Yellow Vests, and in Moscow, October 2019, when we had that last meal. He greeted me with a joke, parted with me joking. Motherfucker had class. Knew it was likely to be our last reunion and I did too.

Although, damnit, not so soon!… Since you don’t want it to happen, you always think, it’s gonna last a little longer. In Paris in May, when I saw him drinking like a fish, I thought: all right, he knows, decided to have some fun before sunset. In Moscow in October, I confronted him with that shit: why are you drinking, when you’re not supposed to? He came up with a dubious theory according to which vodka was better than wine (one glass a day, as he had previously determined since his brain tumor was removed four years ago) for his ailment. So it was obvious, he was preparing to die. He knew that I knew, and just smiled. Between old friends, some things stay unsaid, but not unbeknownst, particularly when it’s time to go. I always knew when my friends were going to die. Call it junkie intuition.

Now, motherfucking Limonov had a tremendous influence on my life, I wouldn’t even be writing an eXile column without him. I met Mark Ames in his Moscow flat, twenty odd years ago. Because Edward had this gift as well, he just knew what was going to be fruitful, and he had the generosity.

When I first met Edward, in March 1981 in Paris, he was a freaking living god to us, coming from New York, the punk-rock Mecca, and from Moscow, essential to the punk-rock esthetics. We just hated the bleeding heart liberal baby boomers, he was the living-proof that some people from that generation, coming from the cold, could be worth our while. In freaking France, they had published his scandalous first novel, It’s me Eddie, and, wannabe journalists, we interviewed him. Not knowing to whom sell the interview. We eventually did. Edward did not know any genuine Parisians at the time, save for his publisher and the PR woman. He and my crew (most of them dead now) made fast friends. He even bought pot to my long gone friend Fabrice, a burglar fresh out of jail. He talked about it in his first Book of the Dead, published in 2000.

He and I had a special bond, for a very simple reason, I was the only one, in that crew, gifted with foreign languages, English at first, then Russian when, again thanks to him, I met Nina, a Russian immigrant who forced me to learn Russian, when I fell in love with her, as he had foreseen. She was the drinking buddy of Limonov’s new wife Medvedeva, so in a way, however strange it may sound, we had a family. This bond strengthened when I married Medvedeva so she could get a French Green Card and stay with Edward in Paris. Nina was jealous. And so was Medvedeva, her drinking buddy had tried the French guy, who was her husband?… Limonov laughed when I recounted the women’s intrigues…

Then, as years went by, it was my turn to exert a tremendous influence on Edward, when I wrote my first novel, Fasciste, in 1988. Nobody, much less him, was expecting it from me, rather an account of my street junkie days, which I wrote thirty years later. When I got drunk with him and our pal Danila Doubshin in 2015, eating gigantic pork chops, he recognized, against all odds, that my first book was a revelation to him. I never thought he would admit it, although I knew it since I have a long-ass memory. But this motherfucker was, on top of it all, also generous with his friends. And I was lucky enough to be one of them, as the New York Russian journalist Oleg Soulkin once said to me: You’re one of the few he never trashed. So Edward said, yes Thierry, I remember your first book to this day! Much to my amazement.

Then there are numerous stories, how we lost one another in JFK airport in 1982, my first trip to New York, then met again in a art opening in a art gallery in SoHo, after I put an ad in the Village Voice — “Limonov Call Me” —and when the Puerto Rican girl said we don’t put family names on ads, I answered it’s a Russian name, she didn’t know better at the time. Edward and I ended up at Chemiakin’s place, and when Chemiakin threatened me — he was gonna kill me because I was staying at some Russian woman’s place and the Russian painter was sweet on her — Edward punched him in the face.

Marignac & Limonov, Moscow

Then in February 2001, I’m detained by the FSB at Sheremetyevo airport, since I’m carrying Limonov’s letter to the infamous old mercenary Bob Denard. It’s all bullshit, since he’s inviting him to a “Congress of hot spots” on the Earth, and the Russian Embassy has to grant him a visa, and they know Denard since the Cold War days, he’s fought them in Africa, not to say Denard is fresh out of jail at the time and already Alzheimer’s. Yet, the agents dance the macho menuet to freaking make me wet my pants. Well, I’m a veteran of the junkie wars, I remember how it was in the old days in France, I don’t particularly freak, knowing they don’t have much on me.

As soon as I land in Paris I call Limonov to let him know what happened. He says: Well, that happened. Now his apartment was bugged all over, and a few weeks down the line, when I call Nina, passion of my life to this day, she says, don’t ever come back, yesterday on TV they posted conversations between you and Edward talking about coup d’État !… But I’m back there two months later, invited by the French Embassy to write a novel, and Edward is already in jail. I walk the straight and narrow. Mark Ames and I have paranoid meetings on the Red Square, away from the bugs, to determine what we’re gonna do, since our names were brought up in Limonov’s trial. We wouldn’t even utter a word in the eXile headquarters where we both worked together. And the lawyer is trying to pull us in way deeper, since it could be useful in Edward’s trial. Damn!… I don’t even remember how we survived. Nina, Edward’s original gift from Paris 1983, supported me wholeheartedly, and wisely. Mark had worked out his own immunity already 8 years living in Russia. We managed to escape any dire consequence and Edward got out of jail in 2003.

How the fuck can I forget a friend like that, with whom I’ve gone through so much, who always supported me through thick and thin?… Damn, the world doesn’t seem right without this motherfucker, something’s missing!…

—Thierry Marignac, April 9th, 2020.

Posted: April 10th, 2020

By

Posted: August 12th, 2019

If you haven’t already, you should check out and subscribe to Filmsuck, a biweekly podcast about film. It’s hosted by Eileen Jones, the eXiled’s infamous film critic who now writes Jacobin, and Evgenia Kovda, a Russian filmmaker sent to America to undermine western democracy.

The spirit of the eXiled lives on…in podcast form! 

In their latest episode, they discuss Quentin Tarantino and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. 

Continue Reading

Posted: August 12th, 2019

Mark Ames is the co-host of the Radio War Nerd podcast. Subscribe to Radio War Nerd on Patreon.

Who remembers @ShamiWitness? At the peak of ISIS’s power, @ShamiWitness stood out as the genocidal militia group’s “most influential Twitter account” according to a Channel 4 exposé and a Kings College report. The @ShamiWitness account was followed by some two-thirds of foreign jihadis. But it went further than propogandizing Islamic State’s massacres and rapes: @Shamiwitness also actively recruited foreign jihadis and helped lead them through the ratlines in Turkey, into the ISIS killing fields in Syria and Iraq, as a George Washington University report revealed this year.

But I want to talk about the western “experts” in Washington and London who cozied up to @ShamiWitness — especially since all of them are still around, many of them bigger and more influential in our political discourse than ever. They’re the ones who built up @ShamiWitness’s social media capital, making his account so popular, and so effective, in recruiting ISIS murderers. Some of the best known Syria regime-change hustlers and “experts”—Eliot Higgins of Bellingcat and the Saudi-funded Atlantic Council; Charles Lister of the Saudi-funded Middle East Institute, former CNN “Syria expert” and Atlantic Council fellow Michael Weiss, all major figures promoting today’s RussiaGate hysteria—together helped transform the @ShamiWitness account from a cretinous troll into a credible “ISIS expert”. They validated and lent credibility to ShamiWitness as someone with deep, local insider knowledge, boosting ShamiWitness’s social capital their countless retweets, #FF’s, #Pt’s, and their numerous public interactions.

As it turned out, @ShamiWitness was a fake “Syria expert”. The millennial yuppie who ran the ShamiWitness account was as much an insider expert on ISIS as the western Syria hacks who boosted him. It wasn’t the “experts” like Bellingcat who unmasked ShamiWitness — quite the opposite, Bellingcat’s team played a major role in building him up as a credible expert. Rather, it was a Channel 4 report exposing ShamiWitness as a fake — but a very dark and dangerous fake, with very real world consequences. @ShamiWitness was run by a 24-year-old Indian marketing executive named Mehdi Masroor Biswas, who tweeted out ISIS and Syria “expertise” from his bachelor pad in Bangalore, India. 

And just like that, the London and Washington Syria regime-change neocons who’d been boosting @ShamiWitness suddenly looked like fools — as well as ISIS accessories. Contrary to what they had all assumed, @ShamiWitness wasn’t the expert Syria insider he pretended to be. He spoke no Arabic; he was nowhere near Syria.

The ShamiWitness account was every bit as sick, sectarian and vile as you’d expect from ISIS’s leading Twitter account. In its brief gory heyday, ISIS was responsible for slaughtering somewhere between 50,000 – 100,000 people in Iraq and Syria, enslaving, raping and exterminating untold thousands of Yezidis and other minorities in the region. Which makes it all the more shocking how these western experts, most of whose careers are still thriving today, bigger than ever in fact, were able to get away with being accessories to ISIS propaganda and recruiting efforts. It wasn’t as though they couldn’t have known ShamiWitness was a monster. A year before ShamiWitness was unmasked, Michael Kelley called out reporters (including himself) for being accessories to ShamiWitness’s social media influence, but he was practically alone in that.

Here are a few gruesome examples of ShamiWitness’s Twitter account in action:

  • In 2014, responding to reports out of Kobane that ISIS attackers were raping and mutilating female Kurdish soldiers, ShamiWitness gleefully tweeted:

  • As his Islamic State heroes were posting selfies of their Kurdish female trophies [WARNING GRAPHIC]:

  •  …ShamiWitness tweeted out sick ISIS jokes about murdered Kurds like this:

ShamiWitness swooned over ISIS’s murder porn, relentlessly promoting and tweeting out ISIS execution and beheading videos on Twitter. ShamiWitness repeatedly tweeted out ISIS videos of American hostage Peter Kassig’s beheading execution within minutes after they were first posted, feeding bloodlust to his thousands of foreign jihadi followers.

And he did his best to inflame sectarian hatreds, gearing up ISIS foreign recruits for the killing fields:

Despite thousands of vile tweets like that, ShamiWitness was a popular figure among the Syria regime-change “expert” crowd. One of those experts who’s been in the news a lot lately is Eliot Higgins of the Atlantic Council/Bellingcat cyber-sleuth group. Bellingcat have made themselves darlings of the western press — and western intelligence agencies — with their investigative reports targeting NATO’s adversaries, primarily Russia and Syria. After making headlines for tying Russia to the downing of Malaysian Air Flight 17, and unmasking the alleged GRU poisoners in Salisbury, Higgins and his crew have received unanimous glowing press in the BBC, New York Times, Washington Post and elsewhere — along with funding from the Saudi-financed Atlantic Council, and the US government’s National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a regime-change front set up by Reagan’s ghoulish CIA chief, Bill Casey. (The NED’s first chief, Allen Weinstein admitted to the Washington Post, “A lot of what we do today was done covertly twenty-five years ago by the CIA.”)

Here is Higgins throwing out a big #FF — or “FollowFriday” — recommending the ISIS propagandist to his followers:

  • And again (For the mercifully uninitiated, “#FF” is how you recommend other accounts to your own followers to follow. #FF is a key part of any brand-building strategy. You #FF someone who you think will make you look good, and who you hope will #FF you back to their followers. This is how ambitious Twitter propagandists build brand following):

  • Here’s the Bellingcat founder promoting some ISIS slaughter porn tweeted out by ShamiWitness—in this case, an ISIS video gloating over murdered Kurdish women:

  • Here is the Bellingcat sleuth engaging in what passes for witty Twitter repartee with ShamiWitness, joking about devastating ISIS suicide bomber vehicles that have killed and mutilated untold thousands in Syria and Iraq. But for Bellingcat and ShamiWitness, there’s a Gallagher joke in it: 

  • And here’s Higgins offering helpful Twitter tips to ISIS’s top recruiter on how to deal with ISIS’s online critics:

Higgins began his “open source intelligence” career under a misleading avatar — “BrownMoses” — as if Higgins, a doughy pinkish Midlands gamer, was some kind of swarthy Middle Easterner whose friends’ and relatives’ lives were at stake. Oddly reminiscent of a Mehdi Masroor Biswas pretending to be a ShamiWitness (Shami meaning “Syria”). How could ace sleuths Bellingcat not know that ShamiWitness was a fraud, let alone a propagandist for mass murder and enslavement? As online open source experts, they should’ve had no problem unmasking ShamiWitness. Slate reported how it was “fairly easy to doxx” ShamiWitness after all, based on his giant dumb social media footprints under his real name and real life in Bangalore, accounts which were carelessly linked to his ShamiWitness accounts.

Nevertheless, Higgins and his Bellingcat boys were gobsmacked when the ISIS “expert” they’d been #FFing and conversing with for two years turned out to be a fake. And when ShamiWitness was unmasked, rather than owning up to it and trying to understand how he’d been duped, Higgins tried to turn it all into a fatuous joke, in a strangely transparent attempt to minimize the whole scandal and make it go away: 

Higgins’ efforts to downplay ShamiWitness were deliberately misleading as well as childish. He was trying to cover his own ass over having been duped by a Bangalore dweeb with blood on his hands. We now know from detailed terrorism studies that ShamiWitness was not on “toilet cleaning duty” as Higgins quipped—he very literally led foreign jihadi recruits into the Syrian and Iraqi killing fields, and inspired one of ISIS’s most gruesome foreign terrorist attacks, in Dhaka.

You had to try really hard not to know what you were getting involved in with ShamiWitness, and in case you were trying too hard, ShamiWitness boasted what he was up to, such as this tweet to another chummy Washington regime-change operative and former Vice guy, Danny Gold:

Mere boasts about ISIS terrorism did not cause Gold any hesitation in brand-building with ShamiWitness: 

For now, let’s move on to more familiar names in the DC-London regime-change swamp.

  • Here is ubiquitous regime-change hack Charles Lister, of the Saudi-financed Middle East Institute, logrolling with Higgins and ShamiWitness like something out of a “how to build your social media brand” workshop:

  • Here’s a string of Lister-ShamiWitness-Bellingcat logrolling episodes:

See, this is how you cross-build a community of “experts” on social media: tagging and referencing your circle enough times to create an impression of something happening, a self-validated “community of Syria experts.” All of them benefited from it, including ShamiWitness. Only the Syrian and Iraqi people suffered.

But “Jihad Lister” (as Special Forces vet Jack Murphy calls him) went further than logrolling with ShamiWitness, blowing kisses to the ISIS propagandist/recruiter in ways that are downright sickening:

Here, for example, is Lister yukking it up with ShamiWitness over a particularly brutal Saudi-led militia group, Suqur al-Izz, an ally of both ISIS and Al Qaeda’s al-Nusra — and which carried out savage massacres of hundreds of minority Alawite civilians in Latakia province (documented in a Human Rights Watch report). To Lister and his ISIS friend, it’s all good for an ironic laugh:

To which ShamiWitness reminded Lister:

…prompting a “right back atcha” from his chum Lister:

Naturally, this sordid ISIS-neocon Twitter orgy features serial Thesaurus-abuser Michael Weiss, the Daily Beast’s tenured regime-change hack. There’s a lot of love going back and forth between the two. Perhaps most astonishing is ShamiWitness declaring Michael Weiss as his favorite journalist, Weiss going wobbly at the knees in gratitude, and the ISIS recruiter blowing him a smiley:

  • Weiss blows a smiley back at the ISIS recruiter:

Incredible as it may seem, around the time of this ShamiWitness love-fest, this same group—Weiss, Zelin, and Bellingcat—soon ganged up on another and far better Syria analyst, Aymenn Al Tamimi, accusing him of—are you ready?—being too friendly on Twitter with ISIS. The think-tank neocons accused Tamimi of having turned into a terrorist. In fact, Tamimi’s real sin was debunking an inane Michael Weiss conspiracy article that claimed Iran and ISIS were “secret allies” in Syria.

Weiss was of course wrong—being consistently wrong is what Weiss is paid to do for a living.

This is the same Michael Weiss who posted a similar conspiracy theory claiming Russia secretly served as ISIS’s air force in Syria. Weiss gets things wrongs as a rule, because being wrong is his career. It’s a job not many people are willing to do, or capable of doing without triggering a gag reflex. Michael Weiss gargles made-to-order shit without so much as a chaser. He is, quite literally, a tenured failure. There’s a lot of dark demand for this kind of work, and very few willing takers. You need to believe you’re some kind of evil genius, pulling a fast one on all the honest rubes, to get off on this kind of work.

Weiss also struck up all sorts of sleazy relationships with Syrian jihadis, and even posed for selfies in a jihadi-controlled section of Aleppo in 2012:

As Max Blumenthal reported, the jihadi on Weiss’s left was believed to be Syrian rebel commander Yousef Ajjan Al-Hadid, who was killed shortly after Weiss’s selfie. And the other guy with the AK, the one who looks like Harold Ramis, is Mahmoud Sheikh al-Zour, who ran his own rebel training camp in northern Syria, and worked in Al Qaeda-dominated Idlib as well as Aleppo.

So you’d think Weiss and his crew would be a little more circumspect about accusing a far more serious Syria analyst like Tamimi of being a jihadist sympathizer—but hypocrisy never bothered a neocon. And anyway, their gang hit on Tamimi’s reputation had nothing to do with jihadi sympathies, and everything to do with making Weiss look bad.  So the syndicate took a break from brand-building with ShamiWitness, to try to sink Tamimi’s career by smearing him as a terrorist symp. The job was handed to an aspiring young neocon larva named Armin Rosen — previously known for defending a racist hate-group leader’s use of “Islamo-fascism” — who published the hit piece in Business Insider, headlined “The Remarkable Story of a Rising Terrorism Analyst Who Got Too Close To His Subjects”.

Rosen’s article begins with the goal reported as fact:

Aymenn Al Tamimi’s career came apart in public last week.

A couple paragraphs down, the article explains how:

almost from the beginning, his links to known jihadis — including members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), arguably the most ruthless of such groups — and a habit of firing off tweets and social media posts appearing to sympathize with their cause raised eyebrows among his colleagues in the tightly knit, scholarly community of Western-based terrorism analysts.

Next paragraph comes the bombshell evidence, in the form of a non sequitur:

On July 14, Al Tamimi, who had been cited in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post and had appeared on BBC News, published an article attempting to debunk journalist Michael Weiss’s evidence that Iran was aiding ISIS, which now controls a roughly Belgium-sized slice of Iraq and Syria.

This is where the “tightly knit” syndicate comes in—it’s not about evidence or expository logic; the evidence is what the self-appointed “community” decides is evidence. In this instance, it was Bellingcat that pulled the pulled open the trap door:

[Tamimi’s] article was cross-posted to Bellingcat, the online publication launched by Eliot Higgins, the renowned investigative journalist most famous for helping to prove the Syrian regime’s responsibility for the August 21, 2013, chemical weapons attack in Damascus.

But within days the article had been pulled from Bellingcat and Tamimi had been dropped as a contributor to the site, a development Higgins confirmed for Business Insider by email early last week.

Higgins cited serious accusations that had surfaced on Twitter after fellow terrorism analysts had aired evidence suggesting that Tamimi was discomfortingly close with some of his sources in the jihadist world.

Weiss linked to a conversation in which Tamimi told an apparent ISIS supporter that it was “best not openly tweeting” pro-Caliphate sympathies, and that his “bro,” the pro-ISIS Twitter user Shami Witness, “suggested I should stick to objectivity on Twitter.”

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a senior fellow at the the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, called the exchange “pretty disturbing.”

That would be this Daveed Gartenstein-Ross:

This is a classic neocon smear strategy—activate the network to create the impression that the character smear is a consensus opinion by experts from different backgrounds, and drive the stake in the heart with a retraction. In this case, Bellingcat’s Eliot Higgins played executioner in the Tamimi smear. Higgins and his Bellingcat crew have come a long way since this smear on Tamimi. These days, Bellingcat are media celebrities, fronting for western intelligence agencies’ information wars against Russia and Syria. Eliot Higgins and Bellingcat have positioned themselves as a “pro-NATO Wikileaks” exposing the lies and crimes of NATO’s adversaries, racking up lucrative grants from Google, the Atlantic Council, and Bill Casey’s old regime-change front, the National Endowment for Democracy, along the way.

To Tamimi’s credit, he was one of the very few Syria analysts or journalists who publicly owned up to his own role in lending credibility to ShamiWitness’s Twitter account. Unlike Weiss, Zelin, Lister, Higgins or any of the other Bellingcats, who never owned up to their own role as accessories to ShamiWitness, Tamimi had the integrity to write about and explore his own mistakes, and to try to learn from those mistakes. And despite Bellingcat’s best efforts, Tamimi is still around, blogging at Syria Comment—a site edited by one of the very few American Syria experts to actually get the Syria war right—Professor Joshua Landis, who heads the Center for Middle East Studies at U. Oklahoma, and who appeared on Radio War Nerd early this year.

Being right about Syria is, as I’ve said, the only sin in this business. So you might not be surprised to learn that Michael Weiss and ShamiWitness teamed up against Landis. Actually it’s worse: Weiss and ShamiWitness ganged up on Landis by making menacing attacks on Landis’s Syrian-born wife and her family, who are members of Syria’s minority Alawite sect, which has been targeted for extermination by groups supported by ShamiWitness, Weiss and the rest of this DC-London regime-change crowd.

Here is the ShamiWeiss-Landis exchange, in which Weiss tags his ISIS pal to attack Professor Landis’s inlaws, many of whom still live in Syria:

After Weiss tagged in ISIS’s top propagandist to attack Landis’s Alawite wife and in-laws, he reached for his trusty Thesaurus to deliver what passes for a witty coup de grace, in what passes for the pen of Michael Weiss: 

We’ve spent enough time on these sleazy goons. Let’s name some more western “experts” who boosted and promoted the @ShamiWitness account:

  • Phillip Smyth of AIPAC spinoff the Washington Institute for Near East Studies:

  • Faysal Itani, Senior Fellow at the Saudi-funded Atlantic Council:

  • Borzou Daraghi of the Atlantic Council (another pattern) and formerly Buzzfeed:

  • Liz Sly of the Washington Post:

But how could they have known? some might ask. Indeed, how—not like our Syria experts could be bothered to read the tweets of those accounts they’ve helped promote or anything:

 

In fact, they all knew, but only a very few cared to call it out, and got nothing for it. A year before ShamiWitness was unmasked by Channel 4, Michael Kelley of Business Insider (now editor at Yahoo News) published a piece, “One Of The Most Popular Sources on Syria Happens To Be An Extremist Supporter” calling out reporters and experts like himself for being accessories to ShamiWitness/ISIS propaganda:

“[H]e remains a noticeable voice in the Syria discussion. That is uncomfortable for analysts and reporters (including this author) who have directly or indirectly facilitated Shami’s rise, even if the lift merely involved a citation, a retweet, or friendly banter.”

After ShamiWitness was exposed in December 2014, Syria journalists and experts who hadn’t been part of the ShamiWitness Dupe Brigade called out the hacks who’d made ShamiWitness a powerful and influential propagandist.

For example, Zaid Benjamin of Radio Sawa bitterly tweeted:

In the months and years since ShamiWitness’s account was unmasked and the young man behind it arrested, we’ve learned that ShamiWitness was more than just ISIS’s most influential propagandist on Twitter.

Two of the ISIS Bangladeshi jihadis who carried out the gruesome 2016 Dhaka attack were avid followers of Shamiwitness. That attack left 29 dead —including 9 Italians, 5 women and 4 men, all of whose bodies showed signs of gruesome torture, punishment for anyone who couldn’t cite verses from the Koran.

Indian authorities also discovered that ShamiWitness helped recruit Areef Majid and his group of ISIS jihadist recruits from Kalyan, near Mumbai. Majid fought for ISIS in Iraq and Syria, before escaping in late 2014—like a lot of foreign recruits who started getting cold feet after the US-led coalition and Kurdish fighters made life harder for the Islamic State’s army of sadists and genocidaires.

And this year, a report by the George Washington University Program on Extremism, titled “The Travelers. American Jihadists in Syria and Iraq” revealed just how intimately involved ShamiWitness was in ISIS recruiting and logistics, guiding foreign jihadis to the ISIS rape camps and killing fields in Syria and Iraq.

The report goes deep into the experience of an American ISIS recruit, “Mo,” who was “one of the first Americans to go to Syria [to fight for ISIS].” In June 2014, the FBI paid a visit to “Mo” after monitoring his online interactions with the likes of ShamiWitness. Shortly afterwards, Mo bought a one-way ticket to Istanbul, and made his way to a Turkish town called Urfa (or “Şanlıurfa” in Turkish). From accounts like ShamiWitness “Mo” understood that to join ISIS, Urfa “was the place to go.”

Here, the George Washington U report describes how Shamiwitness led “Mo” to his ISIS handlers:

“While analysis of @Shamiwitness’ activities to date paint him merely as a propaganda disseminator for IS, it seems that his role may have in fact also been one of direct facilitation for would-be Western travelers. While in Şanlıurfa, Mo used Twitter to reach out to @Shamiwitness, who put him in touch with three local IS facilitators, including a British IS member called Abu Rahman al-Britani. Using Kik, the encrypted messenger of choice for IS travelers at the time, he reached out to al-Britani. Mo was then given a number for an IS smuggler and told by al-Britani that he could use him for tazkiya, a vetting process whereby a known fighter vouches for a new member to other IS members.”

So people in Syria and Iraq were killed, kidnapped, tortured and raped. And ShamiWitness is rotting in an Indian prison somewhere. That’s not their problem. Eliot Higgins and Michael Weiss have moved on to bigger things now. Their power network is a lot bigger too. And they can prove beyond a doubt that if you question their research, you might be working for the enemy. Why else would anyone question their expertise?

Mark Ames is the co-host of the Radio War Nerd podcast. Subscribe to Radio War Nerd on Patreon.

 

Posted: October 27th, 2018

Radio War Nerd subscribers suggested reposting this newsletter on Yemen open to the public. Subscribe to Radio War Nerd on patreon!

We’re living through a massive artificial famine, right now. In NW Yemen, home of the Yemeni Shia who’ve fought off a Saudi-financed invasion, the “coalition” of invaders has settled on a slower, more effective strategy: artificial famine and blockade. This is how you kill off a troublesome population, not with bombs and guns alone. Hunger and disease are much better mass killers than firearms and bombs.

NW Yemen has been blockaded for years now. And the Saudi strategy is working well. Yemen has had up to amillion cases of cholera, an illness unheard of in countries with modern antibiotics. Untreated cholera is fatal in about half of all cases (versus 1% when normal treatment is available). Since medical supplies are being blockaded (with the help of the US Navy), and few journalists have made much effort to find out what has been going on in the blockaded areas, we may be dealing with an unreported death toll of half a million people, most of them children.

Yemen is a perfect target for artificial famine and blockade, because it never had enough farmland to feed its people. Before the Saudi invasion, Yemen imported almost 90% of its food supplies. When the Saudis imposed their blockade, cutting off all food imports to Hodeidah, the one Red-Sea port serving NW Yemen, those imports stopped. There has never been any alternative route for food supplies to Yemen. Even before the war, road traffic between Saudi and Yemenwas all but shut down. (Which is why, in a year spent a few miles from the Yemen border, I went up to the border many times, looked over it, but never gave a thought to crossing it. It would never have been allowed.)

So NW Yemen is closed off very nicely, from the Saudi view. Which is also the view of the US, UK, UAE, Israel, Kuwait, and the oil companies — basically, anyone who matters in this world. Shia Yemenis are dying at a very satisfactory rate, children first (because children are always the first to die in long sieges like this).

The next step for the Saudi-led “coalition” will be taking Hodeidah, the Shia provinces’ one source of food and medical aid. That operation is well underway as I write.

Last I’ve heard, Sunni forces are only a few km from Hodeidah town, and the Shia may choose to evacuate, withdraw inland to the mountains where they can fight more effectively against the expensive air power and armor of the invaders.

The coalition attackers have taken a sensible approach to conquering Hodeidah, coming from the south along the coastal plain, where air and armor are at their most effective. There’s talk that this strategy was pushed by the UAE, which has bought some highly-placed foreign officers (including a US Lt. Col. who somehow insists he’s not “in” the UAE military, though he wears the uniform and draws God-knows-what insane salary from it) — and plenty of mercenaries, from places as far afield as Sudan (plenty of unemployed ex-Janjaweed throat-slitters looking for work these days) and Colombia, where there’s also a surplus of experienced killers.

The Saudis, who’ve been a disaster militarily from the start of this war, stalled out along the mountainous northern border and are now just trying to stop Shia technicals from overrunning any more Saudi towns along the border. So this advance toward Hodeidah from the south not only means the death of many inland civilians, it also shows the fracture-lines within the Saudi/UAE alliance running the invasion, suggesting that down the line a few months, even more Yemeniswill die as factions backed by the UAE fight others sponsored by Riyadh over who controls the conquered territory (think Saruman’s vs Sauron’s Orcs).

When the Shia fighters pull out — or even if they stay and make a last stand in the rubble of Hodeidah — the blockade will be airtight. From then on, it’s just a matter of waiting for the blockaded population to die off in such numbers that they lose the will to fight.

It happens pretty quickly. You, a Shia fighter, might be willing to die fighting the invaders, but you’re less likely to be willing to watch your children die. You’ll give up eventually, and the “invaders” who failed on the battlefield but won by blockade will roll triumphantly into your towns as if they were brave warriors.

It’s happened before. It’s how the Nigerian Army crushed the Igbo in Biafra in the 1960s. The Biafrans won on the battlefield, but the Nigerian Army was as well-connected, world-wide, as it was cowardly and corrupt. So it laid out big money to its foreign friends and got a very cooperative silence while it starved Biafra to death. That huge international silence had a lot to do with oil and money, just as this one does. When oil, money, and a huge international alliance all line up with the people starving out a troublesome minority, you can expect a complete media blackout on news about those who are dying.

And you’re living through one of those guilty silences right now. Very few journalists have shown any interest in reporting the suffering imposed by the blockade. One of the few to try is RWN guest Bethan McKernan, who just published the only story I can find in English about how losing Hodeidah will cause massive death among the Shia.

All the other media reports I’ve found on Hodeidah are so wildly pro-Saudi they read like parody. Here’s one example from the Saudi mouthpiece Arab News:

“…the failure of negotiations compels [the Saudi-led coalition] to enforce this military solution that will cut off resources from the Houthis once and for all, ultimately shifting the balance of the war and ending the suffering. It is not just a military objective, but a moral imperative.” 

Did you catch that? Tightening the blockade by capturing Hodeidah is a “moral imperative.” And that was the English-language version, the soft sell aimed at foreigners. (Arab News is aimed at Anglo expats with money living in KSA, and routinely soft-pedals stories to push the “reformist” image of MbS and the other bin Salmans, one of whom is the boss of Arab News’s parent company.)

Other media in the Sunni world had a more openly bloodthirsty, gung-ho tilt. After all, it was only a decade ago that Bandar, one of the most powerful Saud princes, warned that the Shia had provoked the Ummah’s Sunni majority to the limit, and would soon meet their doom:

“Prince Bandar bin Sultan, once the powerful Saudi ambassador in Washington and head of Saudi intelligence…had a revealing and ominous conversation with the head of the British Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove. Prince Bandar told him: ‘The time is not far off in the Middle East, Richard, when it will be literally “God help the Shia”. More than a billion Sunnis have simply had enough of them.’”

Another Saudi mouthpiece journal, Asharq Awsat, published in London but funded from Riyadh (and run by yet another bin Salman brother) gloated much more openly:

“The Saudi-led coalition and the legitimate forces will be able to tighten the siege on the coup militias and close the last important port it controls after the liberation of Hodeidah governorate and its strategic harbor.”

Asharq Awsat apparently didn’t get the PR memo that the conquest of Hodeidah should be spun as a way to open up humanitarian aid. No, they’re saying the inconvenient truth of the operation, that its goal is to “tighten the siege…and close the last important port…” supplying the Shia provinces of the interior.

So the situation is lining up very nicely, militarily, for the UAE, Saudi, and their friends in D.C. and London. All you need to tighten the noose at this point in a campaign of extermination by famine/blockade is the silent collusion of world media.

And Lord, how happy the Anglo media have been to supply that last necessary element! Compare this silence to alleged starvation stories from Sunni regions of Syria.

If there was even a rumor that Sunni Syrians might be going hungry, every mainstream media outlet was all over the story. If their CIA-funded shills from the White Helmets made ridiculous claims of massacres and giant famines, later disproved, you could count on everyone from BBC to CNN to blast them over every TV in the Anglosphere.

But the hundreds of thousands of verified, real famine and epidemic cases in Yemen get very little coverage. There’s nothing subtle about why not. The Syrian Sunni jihadis were de facto allies of the US/UK/Saudi/Israel/UAE bloc. So their suffering needed to be amplified. The Shia Yemenis can be slandered with one word: “Iran.” Anything touched by Iran, for Anglo media, is inherently evil, and anything done to those so tainted needs no further justification. The “Houthi,” i.e. the Shia of NW Yemen, are allegedly puppets or proxies for Iran, the Shia Mister Big of journalistic imagination, and therefore legitimate targets for even the nastiest war of extermination (such as by hunger and disease.)

Just by the bye, the Iranian connection is mostly nonsense. The Shia of NW Yemen have been fighting against Sunni imperialists since the Ottomans tried to take their mountain villages centuries ago. They had no Iranian help then, and get very little now. The Sunni forces sent against them have always been the true foreign interlopers, featuring everything from Albanians to Egyptian contingents. But that kind of influence is just a normal fact about the world, to Anglosphere reporters, whereas even the faintest hint of Iranian aid is as horrifying as those globs of Alien goo on the landing craft of Ripley’s Nostromo.

The truth is that the mountain Shia of NW Yemen are eminently killable precisely because they DON’T have influential friends abroad. An inland population, very poor, isolated, facing a very rich and well-connected genocidal enemy — that’s the situation here, and it’s perfect for a successful extermination campaign.

As we see every day, via the non-coverage of this huge story by everyone (except the Cockburns, Bethan, and a few other brave outliers). There’ll be a time when the artificial famine in Yemen takes its place with other, similar horrors, like that in Ireland in the 1840s, Ukraine in the 1930s, and Bengal in the 1940s. And when revisionist scholars get around to counting the dead in this latest atrocity, they’ll note that there was a deadly silence from media outlets that should have known better—and DID know better, truth be told.

When Alfred Lord Tennyson, the adored Poet Laureate of Britain, was invited on a tour of Ireland at the very worst moment of the artificial famine there, he laid down strict conditions: he was to be provided with a coach with window shades that could be pulled down so as to shut out any view of “Irish distress” on the roads he traveled, and his hosts at every manor house were to instruct other guests to refrain from any mention whatsoever of this “distress”.

It’s what you see with most such famines. The loathing for the targeted minority long precedes their extermination. Once that loathing has been vented without blowback from world media, the genocidaires grow bolder, and begin to think practicalities. How and when, not “whether” to take out the troublemakers.

They don’t need, or even want, too much backing from media. All they ask is silence, distraction, anything other than the genocide itself. And they have the money and moral influence to enforce it (yes, weird as it sounds, money and power do strike most people as possessing moral force in their own right). With those advantages, and a liberal dispensing of cash to publishers, think tanks, and lobbyists, a lethal silence descends on those who are dying.

This is the last, most important element of the Ireland/Biafra/Bengal/Yemen strategy: a collusive silence from the media. Sure, it’ll be noted decades later. Books and articles will be devoted to explaining or justifying it (mostly “justifying” because powerful states tend to stay powerful, and don’t want their grandfathers’ crimes exposed).

And there’ll be a whole new set of career opportunities, for the grandkids of the journalists who are blocking the Yemen horror from their consciousness right now, in publishing scholarly articles on the complex quandaries that stopped their ancestors from seeing or smelling the corpses — when really (as I discovered when I once tried to research literary reactions to the Irish Famine) it was simple swinishness, generation after generation.

This article originally appeared as Radio War Nerd Newsletter #71, for subscribers to Radio War Nerd on Patreon. Subscribe today!

Continue Reading

Posted: June 10th, 2018

First published on SurveillanceValley.com

The Tor Project, a private non-profit that underpins the dark web and enjoys cult status among privacy activists, is almost 100% funded by the US government.

In the process of writing my book Surveillance Valley, I was able to obtain via FOIA roughly 2,500 pages of correspondence — including strategy sessions and contracts and budgets and status updates — between the Tor Project and its main funder, a CIA spinoff now known as the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), an agency that oversees America’s foreign broadcasting operations like Radio Free Asia and Radio Free Europe.

(See the full set of documents here.)

I obtained the documents in 2015. By then I had already spent a couple of years doing extensive reporting on Tor’s deeply conflicted ties to the regime change wing of the U.S. government. By following the money, I discovered that Tor was not grassroots. I was able to show that despite its radical anti-government cred, Tor was almost 100% funded by three U.S. national security agencies: the Navy, the State Department and the BBG. Tor was military contractor with its own government contractor number — a privatized extension of the very same government that it claimed to be fighting.

This was a shocking revelation.

For years, the Tor Project — along with other government-funded crypto tools like Signal — has been seen in almost religious terms by the privacy community as the only way to protect people from government spying online.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation held up Tor as the digital equivalent of the First Amendment. The ACLU backed it. Fight for the Future, the hip Silicon Valley activist group, declared Tor to be “NSA-proof.” Edward Snowden held it up as an example of the kind of grassroots privacy technology that could defeat government surveillance online, and told his followers to use it. Prominent award-winning journalists from Wired, Vice, The Intercept, The Guardian and Rolling Stone — including Laura Poitras, Glenn Greenwald and Andy Greenberg — all helped pump up Tor’s mythical anti-state rebel status. Even Daniel Ellsberg, the legendary whistleblower, was convinced that Tor was vital to the future of democracy. Anyone who questioned this narrative and pointed to Tor’s lavish government support was attacked, ridiculed, smeared and hounded into silence. I know because that’s what Tor supporters tried to do to me.

But the facts wouldn’t go away.

The initial evidence that I had gathered in my reporting left little room for doubt about Tor’s true nature as foreign policy weapon of the U.S. government. But the box of FOIA documents I received from the BBG took that evidence to a whole new level.

Why would the U.S. government fund a tool that limited its own power? The answer, as I discovered, was that Tor didn’t threaten American power. It enhanced it.

The FOIA documents showed collaboration between the federal government, the Tor Project and key members of the privacy and Internet Freedom movement on a level that was hard to believe:

The documents showed Tor employees taking orders from their handlers in the federal government, including hatching plans to deploy their anonymity tool in countries that the U.S. was working to destabilize: China, Iran, Vietnam, Russia. They showed discussions about the need to influence news coverage and to control bad press. They featured monthly updates that described meetings and trainings with the CIA, NSA, FBI, DOJ and State Department. They also revealed plans to funnel government funds to run “independent” Tor nodes. Most shockingly, the FOIA documents put under question Tor’s pledge that it would never put in any backdoors into their software. (See below.)

The documents conclusively showed that Tor is not independent at all. The organization did not have free reign to do whatever it wanted, but was kept on a short leash and bound by contracts with strict contractual obligations. It was also required to file detailed monthly status reports, giving the government a clear picture of what Tor employees were developing, where they went and who they saw.

I used many of these documents in my book, Surveillance Valley, to tell the story of how privacy technology evolved into a tool of military and corporate power. But now I’m going further: I’m releasing the full cache of FOIA files on Tor and the BBG to the public. I hope that journalists and historians will make use of this information to explore the close relationship between privacy technology, government power and Silicon Valley economic dominance.

In honor of this release, I’m putting together a little fact-checking primer on Tor’s government ties that’s based on these documents. I’ll be releasing a “fact-check” every few days, starting with the first:

CLAIM #1: Tor does not provide backdoors to the U.S. government
RATING: Moderately true.

 

Buy it today!

And check Yasha Levine’s Surveillance Valley blog for updates.

Continue Reading

Posted: March 7th, 2018